NASHVILLE, Tenn.—It was a dealer meeting that had a little bit of everything: A private concert by Grammy award-winning singer Vince Gill and his wife Amy Grant; country line dancing; and even some guys juggling scythes and lighted torches over and around a worried-looking tire company executive.
All this and an apology from two top executives for the Firestone tire recall (see story below) happened at the Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (BFS) "Bizcon 5" meeting, which drew about 600 independent commercial tire dealers, Sept. 18-20, to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville.
"Obviously, if you aren't profitable, nothing else matters," said Singh Ahluwalia, vice president of commercial sales at BFS. He told attendees that BFS has added a new brand: "A brand called `You' (the dealers)." He pledged that whatever the tire maker does in the commercial market will have to create value for users and this new "brand."
The commercial tire market faces "dramatic cost pressures," he said, "resulting in a huge squeeze on tire prices."
Class A truck sales are down 38 percent for the year, he added, creating the largest used truck market in history. That will drive down new truck sales further. As a result, original equipment truck tire sales will be down 20 to 25 percent for the year.
However, Mr. Ahluwalia said so far this year total BFS replacement truck tire sales are up 9 percent over 1999, with sales to dealers up 8 percent and fleet sales up 11 percent. "Anyone who doubts the power of your brand should take a good look at the power of those numbers," he said.
Rick Skinner, director of marketing for Bridgestone/Firestone Truck Tire Sales Co.—who braved the lighted torch jugglers—told Tire Business new truck trailer sales also collapsed in April and May. This unforecasted slump also will affect OE tire sales through 2001. The industry's total number of OE truck tire units sold in 2000 will be down about 1 million from 1999, he said.
Manufacturers and dealers stockpiled tires at the end of last year in anticipation of "Y2K" problems that never occurred, Mr. Skinner said. And BFS built up inventories in anticipation of a possible work stoppage by United Steel Workers of America members at unionized plants—a fear that did not materialize.
Messrs. Ahluwalia and Skinner both told TB that the company will not flood the market with tires, a scenario that would drive prices and dealer profits down. "Whatever we do in inventory," Mr. Ahluwalia said, "we don't try to cut value to our dealers."
"We've aggressively tried to hold prices up," Mr. Skinner said. "We don't want to devalue a dealer's inventory."
"However, we have to be competitive (in pricing)," Mr. Ahluwalia said.
BFS officials told commercial dealers that "higher technologies" and expanded dealer training will continue to help them control costs and increase profits. BFS will continue to upgrade its "www.trucktires.com" Internet site, which includes "Information Express," an e-mail system connecting dealers directly to BFTT, said Dennis Jones of BFS e-commerce technologies.
Dayton-brand truck tires also will soon be added to the Web site's "Tire Selector" section, he said, as well as a "shopping cart" feature for wearables.
BFS also is developing ADRS (Auto Delivery Receipt System) to simplify delivery of products to dealers.
During last year's Bizcon 4 meeting in Las Vegas, the company unveiled an expanded training program for commercial dealers, offered at five regional sites.
About 1,100 dealer associates will attend 55 seminars this year, predicted Don Streiff, manager of training and development. This winter, BFS will offer its "Total Tire Management" program in 16 cities, he said.